Fiction || MURGI-WALA MP by Urmi Masud
“Everyone eats chicken!”, thought murgi-wala, a chicken seller in a local bazaar somewhere in some distant city. He suddenly felt a light breeze balloon his lungi. As if the thought was more than just a thought. As if it was, it was…what was it? I would tell you that the all-consuming allure of a chicken might represent a democratic consensus. But Murgi-wala could never think that far, surely. What he failed to realize was that there isn’t anyone he doesn’t know in his locality and there isn’t anyone who doesn’t know him. More importantly all that knew him recognized him. He was someone who was vital to their routine. The product was a catalyst in functioning as a public service. Like Kfc, Chicken made murgi-wala an agent of faith whose steady flow of production ensured harmony. “I feed people!”, yes! That was the only thing he understood without much confusion. At a cost, no doubt, but we can forgive him for not having that foresight.
Hence murgi-wala was truly moved when the blockade caused the chicken feed supply to dwindle and for the first time in his small time carrier, he had to turn away his customer. This was not deliberate, and it made murgi-wala feel a shame that made him choke. He wasn’t a murgi-wala for long. Neither did he belong to the city. Yet, people knew him! On first name basis! Holy…something…something…Murgi-wala felt a brotherhood he couldn’t deny.
Murgi-wala had a name. He was called Alam. When Alam went home that night, he couldn’t sit down to his dinner with his usual “oomph”. He felt shrunken and folded his legs wrong. His wife noticed this sudden change but wasn’t too certain if it was a definitive change. There was sautéed spinach, boiled rice, fried fish, dal, onion, red chili and salt all sprawled in front of him on the cement floor in their designated plastic dishes. They were a display. The wife needed to serve him quite acrobatically given the space of the room was that of a bathtub. So to test his mood she poured an extra ladle of dal over his rice, and waited. Now here was a good defense. If he tries to reach out for a hearty slap, the distance provides safety considering the barricade of the dishes. He would have to jump over the food, blasphemy!..
The crime, whether befitting the punishment, is of a sensitive nature, as incorrect distribution of lentil over the heap of rice with raw onion may ruin ones appetite. The wife was well aware of the challenges this extra ladle of dal would produce. It is very much comparable to that of a slap over extra presence or absolute absence of seasoning. So she decided to climb the single-bed placed right behind Murgi-wala and watch.
Nothing happened. Murgi-wala scanned the extra deluge of liquidity as absent mindedly as a drone flying over a sleeping village.
“Who fed you?” asked a sixteen years old girl, a wife to a forty three years old murgi-wala.
Was that jealousy? I would be shocked if that was the case, but then again there was the width difference to consider. Apparently the answer is yes. The ninety kilogram man was consuming the space of a closet size room and she was nothing less of a mite. So, to matter, she would exert her presence one way or the other. No doubt she would not tolerate slightest hint of invasion, because his stomach content measured her worth. Just as the laborer would be confused if a deal was made without a strike, she questioned his lack of interest in the favorite part of his day.
Murgi-wala lived in a room, on the ground floor, where the kitchen was underneath the bamboo bed. A bench was added right next to it for a bit of extension. One night, after a sigh, murgi-wala fell off the bed as he was about to get off his wife. She laughed so hard that he didn’t have the heart to punch her face. She is a pretty little one, that Mira.
The bench was added the next day. The pan-wala was not at all happy to pay his debt this way. He never intended to. His tiny betel shop would be in ruin if he paid back every Ram and Ratan. But murgi-wala went to his shop and sat down on the bench. He then took three betel leaves and two cups of tea.
“Moni bhai, do you know of a good pain killer?”
“Eh? Anything that you don’t have to pay for? Got a bad backache.”
“Why bhaijaan? Was the wife naughty last night? Hahahaaaa..”
“How did you know?”
“Oho! Caught you!”
“Were, you, standing, outside my, window?”
“Eh! He he…no, I mean, we all know, right?”
“You were! Right outside my window!”
“Now now, you are getting upset. I was just joking”
“You filthy man…Oh! How? How?”
“Wait…no no, you are getting this wrong…”
“Look at this man! Wearing a panjabi and peeking through someone’s window!”
“yolo! now, Mujib bhai…listen to him! Was I serious? You tell me…”
“You took my money!”
“Oh well! Just borrowed!”
“Where is it? Did you pay back? No! Filthy filthy..”
“Alam bhai! Have you lost your mind?”
“I am taking that bench!”
“Wait, what? Don’t…wait…, listen Alam…Jakir bhai! Ataur! Why..”
“You took my money! You looked through my window! This bench is mine!”
Pause, after a considerable pause,
“What just happened?”
“I…I…have no idea…”
That night, murgi-wala lay on the bench side of the bed. The wife always slept inside, right next to the wall. Absence of window made it difficult no doubt, also the mountain like barrier Alam produced. But he always fanned her when she was deep in dream. She slept with her lips parted and she snored which made him giggle. The convulsion would move the bed and she would turn on her side, away from him. The empty backside of hers would reveal the plane of Goriar char, the untamed fertile land unclothed when the river moved on in the outskirts of the village Goria. The sand under the old moon would be burning black hovering an inch above the ground, mystified of its birth and whimpering over the blood bath that would follow.
Alam remembers those nights. The nights that always end too soon. The dawn would jump on them with blistering heat and the blood would dry like molten tar. The shape of the bamboo in his palm, feels as smooth as Mira’s legs. He could remember it heavy in his clutch and the desperation that is pushed aside by the pull of contracting muscles poised to crack bones in one blow.
The battle over the new land, it is something as simple as possession of a packet of nuts or dinner served in plastic dishes not a clay pot or a debt denied by a pan-wala donning prayer hat or the newspaper turned fan that helps Mira dream.
Murgi-wala sat up straight. It was shocking feat nonetheless. As if he didn’t have a tummy. He decided he wanted to do something about the chicken feed supply. He didn’t understand his need to fulfill this task. But the pressure on his chest was not gas, which he was sure of. It had to do with the chickens. He couldn’t deny this calling.
The customers needed meat.
Day broke and murgi-wala sat at his place at the bazaar looking at the panting chickens that were rising in status with every passing blockade days. It was blockade day number…
“So, how much are you asking for yours Alam?” The government clerk asked. His one pant leg was folded a bit higher than the other. The mud caked in between his toes, sandals turned ashen grey, and he smelled of jostling crowd and hatred of the swollen sun overhead.
“My chickens are hungry.” Said Alam, looking up at the pointed face that was poking underneath Alam’s umbrella.
“Damn it! At this rate I can only take three!” jerked mr. clerk his head away from Alam. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, wiped the back of his neck.
“My daughter’s birthday! Thirteen years old brat! Must throw a party for her friends she says. I need deshi-murgi, she says!” eyed Alam from the corner. “What is so foreign about farm I ask you.”
“My wife, my wife said that. It’s important, she feels. She is going to make Murag-musallam.” He dropped the handkerchief and it fell on the glistening thickness at his feet.
“Did you know Alam, my daughter goes to Maple Leaf? Maple Leaf! She must go there, she says, my wife. Do you know why?”, bent and picked up the handkerchief.
“Children must go to school.”
“Eh? Yes yes…but not any school! That school Alam, blood suckers!” Looked left and right and as always, wiped the back of his neck with the handkerchief. Alam watched the movement of his hand. There was a dark patch left over his white color. Mr. clerk suddenly looked content. There was a smile of relief over his face. He closed his eyes.
“It is free. You can take it all.”
“Ehhe! This is filth! That’s why it felt…Yuck!”
Afterwards, Alam shouted at the retreating figure of the government clerk with clucking chickens, “Your wife is a good woman! Children must go to school!”
Mira reached the gate just at the right moment. The fire breathing girl had already crossed security. She could see the girl’s backside as it curved through the crowd in its usual sway. “Shali!” muttered Mira and pulled out a pair of one and a half inch heels out of the sweet bag she was holding. She bellowed hopping in one foot while putting the heel on the other, “Hurry up! That bitch has already gone in!”
“What is the matter?”, thought murgi-wala to himself. He felt his feet weren’t moving. He knew he wasn’t anxious. This was inevitable. The magic of being a distributor of a well-loved product is undeniable. There wasn’t a single person at his locality that hasn’t voted for him. Also, his performance was flawless. Jaw dropping accuracy, they claimed.
Besides, the symbol ‘BambooBhaijan’ had its own charm. It synched with the famous song nonetheless. James, the musician, himself came to shake murgi-wala’s hand the other day and they took pictures, in front of cameras and so many journalists! Microphones they held, that offered themselves up like so many giant sized lollipops!
It also didn’t harm the fact that murgi-wala knew the sports so well. Even at this age Alam could swing a bamboo stick around like a cricket bat and jump at least a feet or two off the ground while completing an arch in midair.
Murgi-wala was also most confident of his reasoning. It was not that he only opposed the lack of chicken feed and the consistent blockade that turned his chickens thin. It had more to do with children and their school. It also contributed to the fact that the mothers were being blamed for being good mothers. And it most definitely was about the plight of the fathers, poor fathers with bazaar bags roasting in the sun, wiping their sweat with muddy handkerchief and regretting sending their kids to school. That was crucial need that chickens fulfilled and the politics needed to undergo change if such need should remain unchecked.
“Hola! Are you posing for the camera again? We are late!” screamed Mira, now fully heeled, standing a bit taller than usual off the ground.
“So now listen, the bitch has a new kamij on. She makes me laugh. Her tits were showing. I ask you can you win this with your tits on camera. I mean, is this a cut piece film or something…this is the capitol…
Oi? What’s wrong with you? Show him your ticket. Do you not have your ticket.? Oh? This is fine? Salam bhai, salam…?
What just happened? I ask you what was that? Did you see? They like you so much, even the security let us go through without asking any questions? Oh! Oh! See! See! What I mean? Shali, she laughs at my sandals. Do you remember the other day? She laughed at my sandals. Do you like this pair? Ah oh! Look up…the producer is coming…”
The intensity of light never bothered Alam. He was used to it. Arms tied behind his back, the veins slowly going numb, blood and snot entering his open mouth and thick dryness clogging his throat while his head was pulled back, kept in place by the rope at his neck that ended in a knot at his back to his ankle. He is used to light, pouring in and out of his cornea bright luminescence, ensconced within a red center overhead boring in on his skull.
No, the spot was just fine.
The studio was filled with sound of applause. The producer kept on gesturing at murgi-wala throwing his arms all around the place. Murgi-wala still felt numb. He felt he was still not sure that he had enough reason to be here. He tried to say so to the producer.
“Bhai, I wanted to do something about the blockade.”
“Check his clip Monsur! Is the sound coming through?”
“Bhai, really. I just thought if I could be an MP and go to the national assembly than…”
“What are you mumbling about Alam bhai. Be cheerful! You are at the final stage. Now listen don’t just stand in the middle like last time okay? The moment the lights are on do your dance.”
“It’s not a dance.”
“I know, I know, be the BambooBhaijan we all love okay?”
“I just thought, if I could get the votes…”
“You already have! Let me tell you the secret…you got the highest vote…you have won!”
“I want to quit.”
“hehe…no time to joke. Hey Monsur! The clip!”
“Bhaia, let me go. I want to quit. I don’t want to win.”
“ Nerves, just nerves”
“I am going Bhai. I am leaving. Mira, where is Mira?”
“Stop acting! You think this is a game? Just stand there. Oi Monsur shala! Adjust the mic.”
“I am going.”
“Listen you ignorant…sigh…sorry. I didn’t mean that…Alam. Listen Alam. Look. You know how it is. Millions of people have voted. You cannot just walk out of here…”
“Why not? Just let the fire-breathing lady win. I…”
“You! You…and her aren’t the same thing. People want you. They like who you are.”
“ A murgi-wala…I know that. Everyone likes a murgi-wala. They think highly of a murgi-wala.”
“You! Not the murgi-wala. They like you. I…”
The sound poured in on left and right. The lights never bothered Alam. The crowd was what it always was, a heaving mass of expectations. He remembered how he had said “NO” so many times throughout his life and still it would be left untouched. Like the flower boy’s withering taunts outside the car window. Suddenly he realized why he didn’t want to continue. He recognized, ever since he first proclaimed in front of the camera that he wanted to do this because he wants to end the blockade, there wasn’t a single instance where he took a decision on his own.
He felt powerless.
Tethered to his own ankle, the bright spot overhead was burning his heart.
“This is the final episode of You got Talent and we have BambooBhaijan!!!” screamed the host from the stage at the Stadium as Alam’s world shattered in millions of applause.
I am not learned. My secretary wanted to edit this. But I said, “Shala, who got the votes, you or me?” You know me. I was on the cover of news last month for beating up a government official for cutting the road on rainy season. They posted a good picture of me on the front page.
Apa, I would like to request you something. My wife Mira will go to your school asking to admit my boy. You have to do something for me. You have to refuse her. I live in FrAlley from where your school is far far away. If my boy would go to your school, he would wake up six in the morning. Then my wife will wake up five in the morning. That means I have to go to bed at 10.30 at night. Which is not possible because the minister doesn’t go to bed before 1.15pm. Now, I cannot stop my wife as my election manifesto was “happy mother happy child”. But you have to do it.
Now apa, when you carry out this very important task, please make sure it doesn’t sound like you are refusing an MP’s wife. Then she will get angry and will want me to do something about it. Now my election manifesto was “happy mother happy child”. So I cannot break that promise.
So dear apa, do take care of my request. The country is indebted to you for your service.
PUBLISHED IN ISSUE #5 (SUMMER 2016) OF CULTURECULT MAGAZINE